Telehealth robots have immensely increased the efficiency of telemedicine and healthcare, since their advent in 1985.
Robots are no longer just a part of science fiction. Telehealth robots have helped out in hospitals by delivering medicines and assisting surgeons in the operating rooms. Today, doctors are able to perform surgeries on a patient who is situated countries away via telerobots. In 1985, the very first telehealth robot Puma 650 from Nokia Robotics performed brain biopsies and assisted in non-laparoscopic procedures. In 1988, Probot conducted transurethral surgeries. Some of the other prominent historical robots include AESOP, Zeus and daVinci.
Service robots are self-aware and can easily navigate chaotic hospital environments. Many robots are equipped with motion sensors that prevent them from bumping into walls and people.
Some of the ways robots have helped out in hospitals and telemedicine are:
- Robots can take orders and deliver items to a patient allowing the nurses to take care of more pressing matters thus improving the supply chain management.
- Robots can act as round the clock sitters for frail and elderly patients. Assistive robots can also improve the lives of mobility-impaired patients by helping them get in and out of beds and onto wheelchairs.
- Robots have video-conferencing facilities through which patients can connect to doctors. VGo technologies have made a two-wheeled robot that allows admitted patients to contact doctors through this facility. Robots serve as a lifesaver for patients suffering from Cardiovascular Disorders by immediately connecting with doctors, thus offering timely interventions.
- Companies like VGo and InTouch have robots that act as stand-ins and serve as eyes and ears for doctors in clinics.
- Using UV light and advanced cleaning technology, robots can sterilise various hospital wards which can reduce contracting hospital-acquired infections like MRSA.
- A robot can help with registering patients, accessing medical records and providing clear directions in almost any language.
- Robotic arms are available to perform basic surgical procedures and these are usually guided by doctors who are miles away. In 2001, surgeons in New York were able to perform a complete laparoscopic cholecystectomy on a patient in France through the robot Zeus. In 2019, Dr Tejas Patel of Apex Heart Institute in India performed five robot-assisted percutaneous coronary surgeries on patients who were more than 30 km away, with the help of a joystick and a video monitor. Surgeons can also use robots to do open surgeries to reduce exposure.
- Robots can help with Remote Patient Monitoring by observing patients who are being treated at home, especially in a time like the pandemic. Robots can also help in minimizing exposure by delivering drugs and food and measuring the vital signs of the patients. iRobot has partnered with InTouch to create a robot that helps out inpatient wards, ICUs, operating and procedure rooms
- A specialist at one hospital can connect to another hospital (hub and spoke model) through an AI-engineered robot.
- Miniature robots can be injected into the body which can help deliver drugs to specific organs or tumours (targeted drug therapy). Smart pills and bandages can record body temperatures, collect samples and take pictures of the affected areas.
- By incorporating principles of engineering, AI and infectious disease, research during the time of an outbreak can be done through a robot.
However, there are certain problems associated with using robots in healthcare. Precision issues a huge possibility. A lot of what the patients say may be lost in translation if the bandwidth connection is not fast enough. The greater the distance especially in rural areas, the more are the network issues. While robots do help increase the efficiency of a hospital, investing in them is an expensive process. Some patients may also hesitate in talking or seeking the help of a robot.
Telerobotic treatment has the potential of reducing mortality and morbidity rates. Telehealth robots and robotics provide services that decrease waste – both in time and money – help patients and make lives easier for doctors and nurses. Telerobotics can help broaden care to patients, regardless of whether they can access a hospital or not.
Author: Parvathi Nair